Question: “Who are your top 10 players for the 2019 NHL Draft?”
Answer: I won’t be focusing on the 2019 crop until mid-summer so it's too soon for a definitive ranking yet. That said, there are a handful of players who have the early markers of a top 10 selection.
Anytime we discuss the 2019 crop, the discussion for the top billing begins and ends with Jack Hughes.
Hughes is a splendid talent that mixes elite speed, edge work, vision and hockey IQ to feast on oppositions. He’s the most prolific scoring U17 player in USNTDP history while playing over half his games with the U18 squad. The list of players he usurped includes Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller.
It’s difficult to imagine someone knocking him out of that spot.
The next wave consists of some highly talented centres in the form of Raphael Lavoie, Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens and Alex Turcotte.
On the back end, Vancouver Giants defender, Bowen Byram leads the charge at this point followed by Euros, Anttoni Honka, Artemi Knyazev, and Nikita Okhotyuk.
The wings aren’t shy on talent either, headed up by Finnish phenom Kaapo Kakko. Kakko is in the midst of a terrific U18 tournament, destroyed the Finnish U20 circuit and even got a sniff of Liiga action as a 16-year-old.
He looks every bit the top five talent he’s been pegged as for some time.
Behind him lay players such as Maxim Čajkovič (the surprise point leader at the U18’s), Alex Newhook, Nolan Foote, Arthur Kaliyev and Peyton Krebs.
That’s a lot more than 10 players but all have the ability to contend for that lofty distinction. 2019 is shaping up to be a strong crop and feature players from an array of positions to help fill many organization’s main needs.
Question: “Who's the most underrated prospect in this year's draft and why is it Nils Lundkvist?”
Answer: Ah, good old Nils Lunkqvist. The smooth-skating, right-shot offensive defender hadn’t received a sniff of first-round consideration for much of the season. This, despite playing a sizable role in the SHL as a draft-eligible player. Instead, it was his Five Nation’s tournament that seemed to move the needle.
With several services now ranking him in the first round, I’m actually going to remove his ‘most underrated’ badge and hand it over to Jonatan Berggren.
Berggren is one of my favourite players in this crop. It's mind blowing that many major services still have him as far down as the third round. The feisty winger produced tremendous results in the Swedish J20 SuperElit circuit.
His 57 points in 38 games were equal or greater than names such as Anze Koptiar, William Nylander, Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, William Karlsson, Jonathan Dahlen, Mikkel Boedker, Elias Lindholm, and Gus Nyquist.
Berggren is a buzz-saw of a player who plays with speed, tenacity, skill and determination. He had a big-time Ivan Hlinka, Five Nations and is currently a leader on a strong Swedish squad at the U18’s. He even earned a sniff of SHL action down the stretch and looked comfortable.
I like him as low as the early-20’s and other services need to get on board.
Question: “Which top prospects could impact the most negatively if their team draft Dahlin, Svechnikov or Zadina? Example: Chabot (Ottawa) or How does a player ceiling change after the draft depending on who they draft ex. K. Connor with Laine vs Matthews”
Answer: The teams with the highest chance at winning the lottery have holes that elite talent can fill. A player like Thomas Chabot may be hanging out on the left side in Ottawa but he’ll immediately be surpassed by Rasmus Dahlin.
The one that may stand out is Vancouver but even that is questionable. Brock Boeser is firmly entrenched as the top RW in offensive situations. Yet, if they were fortunate enough to draft Andrei Svechnikov, I’m certain there would be enough ice to go around.
Opportunity is massive for young players, but the cream will often rise regardless. As an example, Evgeni Malkin hasn’t been any worse for wear playing ‘behind’ Sidney Crosby. Furthermore, Kyle Connor appeared to be stuck behind Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine. But he managed to carve out a plum gig on L1 and PP1.
Sometimes a player will get stuck and suffer in the counting stats page. But that’s usually to the benefit of the team –but to the detriment of the fantasy manager. We can get into that more after the draft occurs.
Question: “Future of Sens and NYR crease? Is it the favourites, Shestyorkin and Gustavsson or lesser knowns like Georgiev and Hogberg?”
Answer: The safe money would be on Shestyorkin and Gustavsson. I’m very high on Shestyorkin and think he has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect netminder. He’s at a different level than Alexandar Georgiev.
In the nation’s capital, the incoming Gustavsson has been tremendous as a U20 player in men's leagues and has leapfrogged the massive, Hogberg. Hogberg had a feeling out process in his first season in North America, but I do like his potential.
Both these organizations are fortunate to have competition brewing in their creases and that should bode well for them moving forward.
Question: “Thoughts on the kind of player Jonah Gadjovich can become?”
Answer: Gadjovich has the skill to become a complementary player in a team’s top nine. His brand of physical, net-front finishing will be quite useful on a second power-play unit and he’s diverse enough to end up on the fourth line and still contribute.
His rise to the professional ranks this coming season will shed light on how far his skating needs to come before he can be considered a safer NHL prospect. But he brings exceptional leadership qualities and from all reports, is already a pro at eating and training.
Question: “Do either Hughes or Boqvist have the potential that Makar does? Why does it seem the Makar hype was bigger than either of them as?”
Answer: The likely reason that Makar was receiving the hype he did was due to being a unique prospect at that portion of the draft. This season, Rasmus Dahlin is the full package at number one and is supplemented by numerous offensive defenders in the top 10. The 2017 crop was far more forward heavy.
If we look just at Quinn Hughes, he’s a full year younger than Makar yet spent his draft-eligible campaign in the NCAA. Makar spent his draft-year in the AJHL – a tier two junior circuit. Both were college freshman this past season and it was Hughes who provided more offence. The Michigan standout recorded 29 points in 37 games, whereas Makar produced 21 points in 34 contests.
Adam Boqvist is one of the youngest players in this draft. His potential oozes out of every pore, and he’s giving scouts a first-hand glimpse of that skill at the U18’s right now. I believe both Hughes and Boqvist can reach similar heights as are expected of Makar – ie. Top pairing offensive drivers.
Question: “A lot of the criticism I read last year of Liljegren was his defensive ability and his decision making. How has he developed after a healthy year in the AHL? Are those concerns still there, and what kind of player can we expect him to be in the NHL?”
Answer: Timothy Liljegren had a strong first season in North America. As one of the youngest players in the AHL, he performed admirably on an elite Marlies’ squad even while rotating out of the lineup at times. He brought his tremendous skating and offensive acumen to the table on a regular basis.
The talented Swede still has portions of his game that need cleaning up – most notably his decision making (when to pinch, coughing pucks up in the middle of the ice in the defensive zone..). However, his upside remains very high. For all U20 skaters in the AHL this past season, he led all defenders and was fifth overall with 17 points in 44 contests.
Liljegren has the tools to become a productive top-four defender. He should make his butter on the power play and help the Leafs’ transition in a big way. I question whether he’ll be competent enough to be a pillar on a top pairing but it’s not out of the question.
Question: “What are you most impressed with on Olli Juolevi's development, and what does he still need to work on to become an NHL ready D-man?”
Answer: A calm demeanour and an ability make the smart play in all three zones has long been Olli Juolevi’s calling card. It was that ability, in concert with a tremendous WJC in 2016 that catapulted him into the fifth overall selection.
In the two years since that draft, that the Finnish defender has struggled with trying to do too much at times. That extended off the ice as well, as he found himself stronger but without a half stride of speed and quickness.
Improved strength and cardio ability will be key to him transitioning up the professional rungs. His ability to log heavy minutes was tested with TPS in the playoffs and he passed with flying colours – a great sign. The next step will be proving he can do it in the AHL.
He remains a player with top four upside that can contribute in all situations.
Question: “3pts goals 2 pts assist: Rank these prospects: Pettersson, Tolvanen, Zadina, Svechnikov, Tkachuk, Wahlstrom”
But I reserve the right to change my answer after I see where the 2018 kids get drafted.
Question: “I would love your Upside and 3YP on Dahlin!”
Answer: His upside is massive. Think perennial Norris candidate and point-per-game seasons. For the first three years, I expect they’ll be some growing pains mixed with drool-worthy highlights. Even if he doesn’t break 50 points by the time he’s 21, that shouldn’t deter anyone.
Even Erik Karlsson didn’t explode until his age 21 campaign.
Keep an eye out for my updated draft rankings coming this week.
That’s all for this month. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3